Secret of the Stone Frog

By David Nytra
80 pages, black and white
Published by Toon Books

Toon Books is known for creating a smart synthesis between children’s books and graphic novels; their books appropriate the storytelling traditions and techniques of both and turn them into a bridge between the slightly different formats. With The Secret of the Stone Frog, though, Toon has published a full graphic novel for younger readers by David Nytra. And as it turns out, it was well worth the wait with a graceful, dreamy story that captures the imagination.

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Talon #0

Plot by James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder
Script by James Tynion IV
Art by Guillem March
32 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

Talon is, at its heart, a slightly odd book at a glance. It’s a book that has obliquely spun out of the last year’s worth of Batman issues and its Court of Owls storyline, but the main character didn’t actually appear in any of those issues. But at its heart? Talon #0 reminded me of not one but two different past DC Comics series, and has merged them into a title that I think can end up working quite well.

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The Hive

By Charles Burns
56 pages, color
Published by Pantheon Books

Two years ago, Charles Burns began a new trilogy of graphic novels with X’ed Out, an odd book that shifted between reality and a different, cartoonish world following its protagonist Doug. It was simultaneously intriguing yet also frustrating; as good as it was, so much was still feeling nebulous and unfinished with two more installments still en route. Burns’s second installment The Hive is now just around the corner, and with it comes not only a larger feel for Burns’ new story, but also a slightly more satisfying look back at X’ed Out.

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Happy! #1

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Darick Robertson
32 pages, color
Published by Image Comics

Grant Morrison recently announced the end dates for his two ongoing work-for-hire titles for DC Comics (Action Comics and Batman Incorporated), and while he still has a handful of company-owned projects still in the pipeline (Multiversity and Wonder Woman Year One for starters), he’s going to start concentrating more on some new creator-owned titles. The first of those is Happy!, a four-issue limited series with co-creator Darick Robertson. Reading the first issue, I have to say that this is a distinct change for Morrison. If I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought it was written by an entirely different big-name-creator.

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Rutabaga: Adventure Chef Chapters 1-3

By Eric Fuerstein
84 pages, black and white

For 17 years, every autumn I’ve gone to the Small Press Expo (SPX) in the Washington DC area, and every year I’ve left with a bag full of cool comics. Over the years I’ve found myself buying more and more mini-comics and self-published books, the sort that I can’t find at my always-great local comic book store chain. One of the discoveries for me this year was Rutabaga: Adventure Chef, a collection of the first three chapters of an utterly charming web comic. And while you can read the pages of this comic online for free, I suspect once you check it out for yourself you’ll agree that this is a comic worth supporting with a copy of the print edition, too.

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Ralph Azham Book One: Why Would You Lie to Someone You Love?

By Lewis Trondheim
96 pages, color
Published by Fantagraphics Books

If you like the fantasy genre and also the comics medium, hopefully you’ve been reading Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar’s Dungeon series, which is being reprinted in English by NBM Publishing. And if you’ve read everything in Trondheim and Sfar’s sometimes-silly, sometimes-grim series and are looking for something else, you’re in luck. Fantagraphics is translating a new fantasy series entirely by Trondheim, beginning with the long-titled Ralph Azham Book One: Why Would You Lie to Someone You Love? And while it’s quite different than Dungeon, I can’t help but think that those who’ve read the former need to check out this new series, too.

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Womanthology: Space #1

Written by Bonnie Burton, Sandy King Carpenter, Alison Ross, Stephanie Hans, Ming Doyle, Stacie Ponder
Art by Jessica Hickman, Tanja Wooten, Stephanie Hans, Ming Doyle, Stacie Ponder
32 pages, color
Published by IDW

A little over a year ago, Renae De Liz started a Kickstarter for an all-female-comic-creators called Womanthology: Heroic. The Kickstarter was wildly successful—it got over four times its goal and topped out at over $109,000—and it got the attention of a lot of people in the industry. Now Womanthology is back with Womanthology: Space, a new series which will eventually be collected into a second Womanthology graphic novel. And so far? It’s off to a slightly unmemorable start.

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Stumptown Vol. 2 #1

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Matthew Southworth
32 pages, color
Published by Oni Press

Almost three years ago, Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth’s first Stumptown mini-series debuted. Starring Dex Parios, it followed a private investigator in Portland, Oregon who was often down on her luck and even more often got in over her head. With the mini-series having numerous delays, though, Rucka and Southworth promised that they’d wait until they could guarantee the next one would be on time before it began to appear. Well, it looks like that time is now, and with Stumptown Volume 2 #1 we’re getting "The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case." But with all the intervening time, is it too late for Stumptown to try and make a comeback?

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By Raina Telgemeier
240 pages, color
Published by Graphix/Scholastic Books

After the wild (and deserved) success of Raina Telgemeier’s autobiographical Smile, it was safe to say that hopes were high for her new graphic novel Drama. Unlike her previous books for Scholastic, it was neither a retelling of Telgemeier’s own life or someone else’s stories (her adaptations of Ann M. Martin’s Baby-Sitter’s Club books). But in cutting loose and telling a story about middle school students in drama club, I think that Telgemeier’s pushed her way into proving to readers that she’s not a one-hit wonder.

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Maya Makes a Mess

By Rutu Modan
32 pages, color
Published by Toon Books

Toon Books is a publisher that specializes in a synthesis of children’s books and comics. These books use the structure of both mediums to form beautiful graphic novels aimed at children of different ages that not only serve as gateways to comics, but also are genuinely enjoyable in their own right. With three new books being released by Toon Books, today’s “Quick Takes” reviews focus on the latest publications from Toon.

Maya Makes a Mess is the first children’s book I’ve seen by Actus comic collective creator Rutu Modan, but I hope it won’t be the last. It takes a familiar litany from a parent—asking a child to show some manners when eating at the table—and turns it nicely on its ear when Maya’s father’s threat, "What if you were eating dinner with the Queen?" is suddenly put to the test when Maya receives an invitation to do just that. At its core, Maya Makes a Mess is a beautiful flight of fancy from a child who imagines a theoretical situation playing out in only the way that a kid can, and it’s pitch-perfect. Every little step of Maya’s journey is well told, and it’s all in Maya’s voice, with that childlike yet wide-eyed exuberance. Parents might not be able to teach their children the manners they want through Maya Makes a Mess, but they will surely teach them fun.

Modan’s art looks great here too; she packs in a ton of detail on every page, especially when it comes to the banquet. With lots of tiny, intricate lines the pages have a lot to examine, from strands of spaghetti to petals on flowers. Half of the fun is just watching what’s going on in every page; Modan doesn’t skimp on a single page, and because of that Maya Makes a Mess is wonderfully re-readable. You’re almost guaranteed to see something new each time, and that’s a rarity in a children’s book. I was delighted to see Toon publish a children’s book from indy comic artist R. Kikuo Johnson (The Shark King) earlier this year, and it’s a joy to see them cast that net wide once more with Modan. All in all, another winner from Modan and Toon Books.

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